Canadian folk music icon Gordon Lightfoot dies at 84

Canadian folk music icon Gordon Lightfoot, whose evocative and poetic songs are etched in Canada’s musical landscape, has died at the age of 84, according to his longtime publicist Victoria Lord.

Lord says Lightfoot died in a Toronto hospital on Monday evening. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Born in Orillia, Ontario, Lightfoot has been hailed as Canada’s folk troubadour for his soulful music and soulful lyrics. In songs like The Canadian Railway Trilogy And The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, he explored the country’s history, geography and culture.

“He’s our Poet Laureate, he’s our iconic singer-songwriter,” Rush singer Geddy Lee said in the 2019 documentary. Gordon Lightfoot: If you could read my mind.

“If there was a Mount Rushmore in Canada, Gordon would be on it,” said Tom Cochrane, in this same documentary.

“Gordon’s songs are works of art, just as relevant as classical poetry,” Cochrane said during his tribute to Lightfoot at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame gala in 2003.

“But more importantly, Gordon Lightfoot led the way and showed us… that you can be true to your roots. You can tap into your influences at home and in your country and you can weave those inspirations into the fabric of your work and still be an international hit.”

From teenage promise to folk stardom

A childhood performer on local radio and regional music festivals, Lightfoot wrote his first song, Hula Hoop songin 1955, while still in high school.

“A lot of the images in my songs are taken from that kind of country,” the singer-songwriter said of Orillia, in a 1967 interview with CBC-TV. Telescope.

“I’ve been to many places and seen a beautiful country. I don’t think anything will ever stick with me or impress me as much as this country here in Muskoka…This is the country in which I grew up .”

WATCH | Lightfoot on how his house helped shape his songs:

Gordon Lightfoot on where he grew up

Gordon Lightfoot talks about the Canadian Shield and how the images for his songs are drawn from around Orillia.

After graduating from high school, Lightfoot moved to Los Angeles to study at Westlake College of Music. He returned to Canada in 1959 and held various jobs in Toronto. He was a backing vocalist, a dancer on the CBC show Country Hoedown and a folk singer in the Two Tones with Terry Whelan.

In the 1960s, inspired by the music of Bob Dylan, Lightfoot became part of Toronto’s burgeoning folk scene. He developed his songwriting and started working on a debut album. Light foot! appeared in 1966.

At the same time, Lightfoot launched what would become a highly anticipated annual concert booth at Massey Hall in Toronto. Started in 1967, it happened every year until the mid-1980s, then dropped to about once every 18 months. In 2005, Lightfoot took over the Massey Hall event as an annual tradition.

A man strums a guitar while singing on stage at halftime at a Gray Cup game, with several stadium floodlights behind him in the distance.
Lightfoot performs during the halftime show of the CFL’s 100th Gray Cup game on November 25, 2012 in Toronto. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

International recognition

After winning accolades at home in the late 1960s, the Canadian troubadour broke onto the international scene in the 1970s after signing with Warner Records in the United States, causing a stir early in that decade with the release of the single If you could read my mindnow a folk standard.

Lightfoot followed this, over the next six years, with what became many of his best-known songs, such as Beautiful, To sleep, Don Quixote, carefree highway, rainy day people And The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Some of these songs were written after his first marriage ended during a mercurial, years-long relationship with Cathy Smith, who was later convicted of supplying drugs to John Belushi after he died of an overdose.

“It was one of those relationships where you have a sense of danger that comes into play,” Lightfoot said in 2019. If you could read my mind.

WATCH | Lightfoot relates how he writes:

Gordon Lightfoot on Writing Songs with a Canadian “Atmosphere”

Gordon Lightfoot talks to Vancouver teens about not writing songs about Canada — per se.

Lightfoot hit the road in the 1970s, traveling the United States from Alaska to Hawaii and playing numerous concert dates in Europe, including Amsterdam, Munich, Frankfurt, the Montreux Festival in Switzerland and box office concerts. closed at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Despite folk’s decline in the late 1970s and 1980s, Lightfoot continued to make his distinctive music, although he also made inroads into acting, appearing in film. Harry Tracy with Bruce Dern and Helen Shaver.

In 1987, the much-admired songwriter made headlines when he took legal action against Michael Masser, who composed the song The greatest love of all. The song became a huge hit after being recorded by Whitney Houston.

Lightfoot claimed that Masser’s song stole 24 bars of melody from If you could read my mind. The matter was settled out of court, with Masser issuing a public apology.

A man sings and plays guitar on stage.
Lightfoot performs on 100 Years Young, a CBC variety special for Canada’s centennial on January 1, 1967. (Roy Martin/CBC Still Photo Collection)

Determined performer

During his long career, Lightfoot overcame several illnesses, including Bell’s palsy and, early in his acting years, alcoholism. He overcame addiction in the 1980s.

In September 2002, the country was on edge when news broke that Lightfoot had been airlifted to hospital with severe stomach pains as he prepared to take the stage for a concert in Orillia. . The singer had suffered a ruptured artery in his stomach, had to undergo several surgeries and had been in a coma for six weeks.

After three months in hospital, Lightfoot bravely approached his recovery, vowing to complete a new studio album and return to the stage. He released the album Harmony in 2004 and returned the same year at the Mariposa Festival.

WATCH | Talking to Alex Trebek about writing folk songs:

Gordon Lightfoot and Alex Trebek on a CBC teen dance show in 1963

A young Gordon Lightfoot talks to Music Hop host Alex Trebek about his writing and recording projects.

Although he suffered a minor stroke in 2006, which temporarily deprived him of the use of some fingers on his left hand, he persisted with a regimen of regular guitar practice and practice sessions. indoors to keep him fit for the road.

He took the untimely report of his death in 2010 with ease and went on to perform a highly publicized Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame gig with The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie while maintaining his own touring schedule.

Inspiration for many musicians

Many Canadian musicians have cited Lightfoot as an inspiration, from Downie to classical guitarist Liona Boyd.

In addition to early adopters like fellow folks Ian and Sylvia Tyson, and Peter, Paul and Mary, a wide range of artists have recorded Lightfoot’s music, including his idol Bob Dylan. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Petula Clark, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Liza Minelli, Barbara Streisand, Sarah McLachlan and Anne Murray. The rheostats also performed his work.

“I’ve never heard a cover of one of my songs that I didn’t like,” Lightfoot told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette in 2008.

“Of course, I’ve heard weird versions from time to time, but they always seemed to do a good job. I’d be amazed if people liked my songs enough to want to record them, and that inspired me and inspired me. made me want to work harder.”

WATCH | On creating a life of music:

Gordon Lightfoot on creating his greatest hits

Canadian music legend Gordon Lightfoot talks to Ian Hanomansing about his music, his legacy and some of the darker parts of his personal life during his five decades in the music business.

Lightfoot has received a series of tributes recognizing his contribution to Canadian music and culture. There were album covers, honorary degrees, a postage stamp, and even a guitar created in his name. He won a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in 1997 and was made a Companion of the Order of Canada – the highest level of the order – in 2003.

A multiple Grammy nominee with more than 15 Juno Awards to his credit, Lightfoot has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Bob Dylan presided over the ceremony.

“I know he’s been offered this award before and he never took it because he wanted me to come here to present it to him,” Dylan joked onstage at the 1986 Juno Awards. “He is someone of rare talent.”

Holding a guitar, a man sings into a microphone on stage during a benefit concert.
Lightfoot performs at Live 8 Canada on July 2, 2005 in Barrie, Ontario. (Donald Weber/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada has lost “one of our greatest singer-songwriters”.

Lightfoot “captured the spirit of our country in his music – and in doing so, he helped shape Canada’s soundscape,” Trudeau said in a Twitter post.

An accomplished performer to the end, Lightfoot stubbornly refused to give up live shows. He toured the UK for the first time in 35 years in 2015, and two years later took part in Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations in Ottawa.

He freed Solo in 2020, a collection of studio recordings that he had been dragging around in the vaults for several years. In 2010, he pledged to continue playing up to 70 gigs a year “because I love doing it”.

Lightfoot is survived by his wife, Kim, six children – Fred, Ingrid, Galen, Eric, Miles and Meredith – and several grandchildren.

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